Cyberspace is coming to a cinema near you, writes
As you will soon notice, Hollywood is going through a cyber-fixation. For years studios have been growing ever more dependent on computers and their genius behind the celluloid. Now they're going out front.

One of the crop has become an instant hit in US cinemas, coming second at the box office in its opening weekend behind Kevin Costner's infamously expensive Waterworld. It is The Net, and although it is - obviously -about the Internet, you do not have to be techno-freak to enjoy it. I am not, and I did.

It will help if you are already a fan of Sandra Bullock. She is the one who ended up driving the bomb-rigged bus in last year's Speed and succumbed to the film's star, Keanu Reeves. This time she plays Angela Bennett, a vulnerable but brilliant systems analyst who specialises in erasing bugs and viruses from computer games.

What happens to Bennett is the storyline for a thriller that lapses only briefly into schmaltz (she falls for the baddie). But the film also has pretensions of warning society about the awesome power of the digital web and what dastardly use it can be put to when the wrong people are invited to play.

So what's new? Anyone who has got into a fistfight with a cashpoint or found a computer at the bottom of some wrangle with the tax office knows there is a malign side to every diskette. This is really what The Net is about, but it takes the potential for disaster wider. Bennett has her identity erased and the US itself is threatened with takeover.

It begins as she scans a new game and suddenly finds herself looking at classified information culled from such sensitive places as the US Atomic Energy Commission. Here are the first clues to an elaborate terrorist plot to take over the government. Sadly for Bennett, her discovery is observed. From then, she is on the run.

If the film is compelling, it is principally because its main elements do seem eminently plausible. By hacking into police files, Bennett's pursuers are able, with a few keystrokes, to give her a new name and a criminal record. Any thoughts of seeking police help are dashed.

Even the conspiracy is not so far-fetched. After first sowing panic by sabotaging computers at the LA airport and the New York Stock Exchange, they create a demand in the Pentagon and elsewhere for a supposedly infallible anti-virus program. Except, of course, they developed it and know how to manipulate it.

If The Net does not appeal, you will have plenty of other cyber-flicks to choose from. The list includes Virtuality, starring Denzel Washington, about tracking down a virtual-reality serial killer, and AI, a new epic by Stanley Kubrick about artificial intelligence. By next year, Hollywood, will have presumably abandoned the nerds and found an altogether different obsession.

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